Joseph Weldon (Little Joe) Bailey, Jr., United States representative-at-large and Dallas attorney, son of Ellen (Murray) and Joseph Weldon Bailey, was born in Gainesville, Texas, on December 15, 1892. He attended public schools in Gainesville and Washington, D. C., while his father served in the House of Representatives and the Senate. As a young boy accompanying his father on a visit to the White House, he replied to President William McKinley's request that he sit on the president's knee, "Mr. President, I like you, but I can't sit on your knee because you're a Republican."
Bailey graduated from Princeton University in 1915 and received a bachelor of laws degree from the University of Virginia in 1919. In the interim he acquired the rank of first lieutenant in the 314th Regiment of Field Artillery during his military service, from August 15, 1917, to March 24, 1919. In 1920 he was admitted to the state bar and began the practice of law with his father's law firm, Bailey and Shaeffer, located in the Kirby Building in Dallas. He was a delegate to the state Democratic conventions from 1922 to 1934.
In 1932 "Little Joe" threw his hat into the ring to run for one of three new congressman-at-large seats. He campaigned as a states'-rights Democrat in opposition to national government extravagance. He called the Eighteenth Amendment "a mistake" and favored its repeal, while opposing the "open saloon" (see PROHIBITION). He eventually received the endorsement of the Texas Federation of Antiprohibition Clubs, headed by John H. Kirby. Out of a field of eleven in the Democratic primary Bailey received a plurality of the votes, but he was forced into a runoff primary against the second-place finisher, J. H. "Cyclone" Davis, whom he had led 199,131 to 122,905 in the first primary. Bailey defeated Davis in the runoff by a vote of 519,393 to 361,485. In the November general election he overwhelmed token Republican opposition. As a freshman Congressman he was assigned to committees on Education, Elections, and Expenditures in the Executive Departments.
Despite his personal admiration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bailey's political philosophy put him at odds with some of FDR's New Deal programs. Bailey voted against unemployment relief, the refinancing of home mortgages, and the National Industrial Recovery Act, and he opposed the federal regulation of the oil industry. During the second session of the Seventy-third Congress he was a member of the temporary Committee on World War Veterans Legislation. He was a consistent supporter of veterans' benefits and voted to override the president's veto of the Independent Offices Appropriation bill, which contained generous benefits for veterans of both the Spanish American War and World War I.
When his Congressman-at-large seat was abolished Bailey chose to challenge U.S. Senator Thomas T. Connally in his first bid for reelection in 1934. Bailey emphasized his support of veterans and his opposition to prohibition, despite its repeal. As the decided underdog he gambled by accepting the public endorsement of Earle Mayfield, who had been backed by the Ku Klux Klan, at a campaign appearance in Tyler. Bailey lost to Connally in a landslide, 567,139 to 355,963, but reemerged politically in 1940 to head the Texas-for-Willkie clubs, groups of conservative Democrats opposed to a third term for Roosevelt. Bailey was an aggressive campaigner in a losing cause. With the aid of his old adversary Senator Connally, he received a commission as a marine captain on May 13, 1942.
He was driving home to Dallas from his military post at Norman, Oklahoma, when he received fatal head injuries in a car wreck north of Gainesville. He died in the Camp Howze army hospital near Gainesville on July 17, 1943. He was survived by his wife, the former Roberta Lewis of St. Louis, Missouri, and one son, Joseph Weldon Bailey III. Bailey was buried in Fairview Cemetery in Gainesville and in 1958 was reinterred at Hillcrest Memorial Park in Dallas, at the request of his widow. He was a Presbyterian.